Even though he may be a little biased, Sam Kuhns didn’t have any doubts about his father and coach receiving the prestigious honor of being named the 2022-23 PIAA/NFHS Coach of the Year in wrestling.
“He works extremely hard to do everything for this team,” stressed Kuhns about his father, Brian. “He definitely deserved this award. “I think it is awesome that he is finally getting recognized for all the work he has put into this team.”
Brian Kuhns, a 1993 Pennridge grad, was surprised and humbled as the recipient. “When I heard, I honestly didn’t know there was such a thing,” he mused. “It is an incredible honor and I am grateful. There are so many good coaches out there. This isn’t just about me, but the entire program here at Pennridge. It has been a community effort to get the program back where it should be.”
When he took over the program three years ago, Kuhns led the Rams to their first winning season since the 2016-17 season. In the midst of their run last season, the Rams added the hardware of their first district Class 3A team duals crown as well as the Class 3A team title. Junior Colby Martinelli finished third and junior Talan Hogan was sixth at states last season, and Sam Kuhns, Cole Coffin and Quinn McBride also qualified. The Rams lost one senior starter (Gio Iadonisi) from a solid lineup top to bottom.
“When we came in as assistants, we had about 15 kids,” recalled Brian Kuhns. “Now we’re at 56 boys and seven girls. It just exploded and started to build last year. This is one of our biggest freshman classes coming in.
“It’s been crazy how many kids want to wrestle. We have more and more coming out every year. We also have more advanced wrestlers coming into the program due to our outstanding youth program. Our youth program grew to over 100 kids this year.”
Ironically, Kuhns never envisioned himself as a coach, especially not a wrestling coach. Growing up, his primary love was football, and he was a Pennridge and Moravian College standout. However, he volunteered as a T-ball coach for his son, Sam, and that jump started his coaching carousel. Kuhns soon became involved with soccer, football, and eventually with the Pennridge youth wrestling program. While at the youth level, Kuhns crossed paths with legendary coach Bob Pepkowski, who dabbled in nearly every sport associated with the Rams’ program.
“He really has a big influence over me,” noted Kuhns. “He touched the lives of many, many people, and I could see how he did. With him, it was about a great work ethic and staying with the basics. He knew how to connect with kids, and he was a very modest man, who gave everything he could.
“I wanted to be like him, and try to coach as many sports as I could. I really fell in love with coaching. I felt like I connected with kids like he did, and that’s a great feeling. I just love giving back to the program and making an impact with these kids.”
Pennridge, regarded as one of the top teams in the eastern part of the state and one of the better ones in the state, opened the season last weekend at the Cumberland Valley Kickoff Classic. The Rams posted a fifth-place finish in the 23-team field. Hogan was the runner-up at 172, Kuhns (152) and McBride (127) were third-place finishers, and Riley Cullen was fourth (215).
Hogan was excited about Brian Kuhns’ award, and he has cherished his relationship with him.
“There is so much to say about him because he’s been in my corner since I was about 8 years old,” stressed Hogan. “I’m so happy to have him in the room with us, and he stays with us no matter what. I expected him to win the Coach of the Year award because of how much work he’s put into this team, and how much better he has made us.”
Kuhns viewed the tournament as a barometer for the season.
“It was a great tournament to start the season,” Kuhns said. “There were a lot of very good teams and a lot of very talented wrestlers.
“The tournament gives coaches and wrestlers a gauge of where they are at the start of the season, and exposes a lot of things you need to work on during the season.
“We are looking forward to starting our dual matches and working on getting our full varsity lineup back on the mat.”
For Sam Kuhns, his father’s influence has played a significant role in his life.
“He has always had a huge influence on me,” said the younger Kuhns, who is a senior and off to a 5-1 start this season. “He has pushed me to be who I am, and I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”
The Pennridge program shares the same feeling.